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Using PowerPoint

In the past few months, have you found your mind wandering during a presentation or lecture? Was the speaker using PowerPoint? And, if they were, did the following happen?

  1. They turned to face the screen, and read the contents of the slide verbatim.
  2. They included huge chunks of text on the screen, more than you could read or understand.
  3. They dimmed the lights so you could catch your much-needed sleep.

Ineffective use of PowerPoint is becoming more and more common. By far the most common complaint is that the presenter reads all of the information on the screen to the audience. The audience tends to think, "I can read it myself, why do I need someone to read it to me?" You can easily lose your audience if they find you dispensable.

PowerPoint can be a wonderful presentation tool. You can use it to display your main points, and it can save you time so you don't have to write things on the board. Also, your notes can be easily distributed via electronic or paper means to your students.

Prepare for a PowerPoint presentation as much as you would any other type of presentation. Make sure you know your content, that the slides are in the order and shape that you want, and practice going through them, timing how long it takes for the whole presentation. Feel free to use tricks like pressing the "B" key during a presentation to make the screen black, and use discussion techniques within the presentation to keep the class's attention.

Effective PowerPoint presentations act as companions to the presenter, not the other way around. They emphasize the points of the presentation, leaving room for the presenter to elaborate and illustrate, the way only visuals can, the points the presenter is making.


Altman, R. (2007). Why most powerpoint presentations suck: And how you can make them better. Harvest: Pleasanton, CA.


Words of Wisdom

  • Ask yourself, do I need PowerPoint? Think about what it may add to the presentation. If you have difficulty coming up with specific reasons (for example: "It will be easier to show the change over time in the growth cycle," "I can add the movie clip of how the engine works"), consider relying on tried-and-true presentation tools such as the whiteboard, blackboard or overhead projector.
  • Animate the text so that only the text you are talking about appears or is emphasized.
  • Set up the presentation before class and go to the back of the class to see if it's visible.
  • Think carefully about what information you want to put up on the screen. Avoid complete sentences, or lines of text with more than six words. Avoid having more than six points. Think of the key phrases that will help your audience understand the information.
  • Avoid distracting templates — your audience should leave "wowed" by the content, not the beauty of the slides.
  • Use sharp contrast of dark and light when choosing background and text colors. Keep in mind that color-blind students may have problems seeing some colors.
  • Watch the screen of the computer to see what's being shown. Avoid turning and looking at the screen on the wall unless you're pointing something out.
  • Make a handout for your presentation, then provide a link (or a paper copy) of your slideshow after the presentation. A carefully constructed handout can guide participants' learning through the presentation, while giving them all of the information up-front may discourage listening.